There was a half-chuckle and a half-smirk. Danny Trevathan knew all the feel-good vibes could last only so long, that he soon would face questions.
So here he was in a small corridor at Halas Hall on Thursday, only hours after signing a rich new contract with the Chicago Bears, and already he was being challenged.
What’s in this for him now?
About two weeks shy of his 26th birthday, Trevathan has been enjoying quite the joy ride. Just last month, he was a key cog in helping the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50. After the parade in Denver and the celebratory vacations to Hawaii and Disney World, another part of Trevathan’s reward, of course, was the golden ticket he cashed in during the opening hours of free agency last week.
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Bears General Manager Ryan Pace extended a four-year deal worth $24.5 million — $12 million guaranteed. Trevathan signed on the dotted line.
Lombardi Trophy? Check. Big payday? Check.
So now what? What will drive the young linebacker now? Here came Trevathan’s chuckle, the smirk. The question amused him but he was thrilled it was being asked.
You’ll see, he promised. Soon Bears fans will understand better how he’s wired.
“Forever, people have been telling me I couldn’t,” Trevathan said. “I love challenges, man. The more, the better. Just bring them to me.”
Let’s start here then. Can Trevathan really flourish now that he has left a Denver defense that surrounded him with four Pro Bowlers — Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, Chris Harris and Aqib Talib?
“How’d I get here?” Trevathan said. “I worked. I pushed myself. Every day.”
Ask him how he will fend off the human nature instinct to exhale after reaching so many huge goals.
“I want to be mentioned among the great linebackers,” Trevathan said. “Some of the greats here in Chicago. Some of the greats in the NFL. And I truly want to get this team over the hump, man. “
‘This is his passion’
Every parent has those indelible moments, those instances that reveal their child’s temperament.
Without prodding, Vince and Michelle Hicks trace back to a Little League football field in Youngstown, Ohio, with 7-year-old Danny playing his first game for the Braves. (Team colors: orange and blue, by the way.)
There was a goal line play that afternoon. Trevathan was blocking as a tight end when a Braves running back fumbled just shy of the goal line. Instant 20-car pileup.
A whistle blew.
Yet even with the play ruled dead, a defender snatched the football and rumbled toward the opposite end zone.
From way behind, Trevathan accelerated in pursuit, the rattling of his pads creating a freight train-like hum. The tackle came 80 yards later.
Vince, Danny’s stepfather, turned to Michelle and smiled, proud of the speed and effort and obvious competitiveness.
“That right there,” Vince said, “is a football player.”
To this day, the memory makes Michelle beam, awash in a full understanding of why Danny always had a football with him. Wherever he went.
So the fear that Trevathan suddenly will change and grow complacent at this stage of his football life? Please.
“This is his passion. This is what he loves to do,” Michelle said. “That passion isn’t ever going to go away.”
This is Trevathan’s nature, who he is. A drive to prove himself always has fueled his confidence.
“Keep telling me I can’t do something,” he said. “I’ve heard it all. How I couldn’t tackle. How I was too small to take on offensive lineman. How I was too slow when I ran the 40(-yard dash).”
After a standout career at Leesburg High School in Florida, Trevathan headed to Kentucky to join a bottom-tier SEC program. By the end of his career, he wound up as the leading tackler in the nation’s toughest conference. For two seasons.
Still, there were no invitations to the East-West Shrine Game or the Senior Bowl. Trevathan was drafted in the sixth round, 188th overall. So then he had to prove he was more than just a special teams pawn. He bonded with then-Broncos coach John Fox and clawed his way to becoming a starter.
A devastating series of knee injuries — multiple fractures near his left kneecap, then later a complete dislocation — derailed Trevathan’s 2014 season, shoving him toward football’s cliff.
“I thought it was over for me,” he said.
Until he decided it couldn’t be.
At that point, Trevathan had to prove he could even play again. And once he cleared that hurdle, returning to action last preseason, he spent last season proving he could be good again, emerging as the leading tackler on the league’s best defense.
Now comes this new challenge in Chicago, a push to revive a slumbering defense, to bring the euphoria he experienced in Denver into the Bears locker room.
“I want everybody around me to experience what I experienced,” Trevathan said.
This is the son Vince and Michelle are so proud of — the unselfish kid with magnetic charisma and desire to be great.
Already Trevathan is reaching out to new teammates, eager to become a tone-setter.
“It starts with one or two guys,” he said. “And they have to spread the message like wildfire. You have to make sure guys get it. That this is it, man. Let’s go out, work for the man next to you and make the most of this.”
When Trevathan was in high school, Michelle moved back to Ohio to help her mother battle cancer. Danny was left behind to live with a family friend. He was also left with a sermon from his mom that he has used as a road map ever since.
“She told me three things: Keep God first. Stay humble. And no matter what you do in life, be the best at it. I don’t care if you’re the trash man, be the best at it.”
So when Trevathan reflects on conquering his grueling knee rehab, he understands what his faith, humility and ambition meant.
When he’s asked about his size — 6-foot-1, 240 pounds — and whether that still feels slight for his position, he advises the outsiders to watch his tape, to see his tenacity for themselves.
“I pack some punch, now,” he said. “I don’t care how big you are. I don’t care how strong you are. It’s just me and you, right there. I have faith in myself, and I hate losing.”
The Bears have lost too often recently, 29 times over the last three seasons. That’s a trend Trevathan is hell-bent on reversing. This is a welcome new challenge that requires the same old attitude.
“It’s all about how you attack,” he said. “We ain’t going to stand there and take punches too much longer now. We’re going to have to swing at some point. And I’m ready to swing.”
That sentiment hardly surprises Vince, who remains proud of his son’s grounded nature and understanding of what his success truly means.
“Family always has meant something to Danny,” Vince said. “So we’re going to keep pushing him to succeed to the fullest extent until he can’t do it anymore. This is his dream. This is what he has been blessed to do. And by him achieving goals, the family can look at it and have a reason to excel at what they’re trying to do.”